Wait, What's the Difference Between Sea Salt and Himalayan Salt?

If you walk down the condiments section of your local grocery store, you may feel a little overwhelmed by the salt options. While some options, like "natural sea salt," are white, you may notice a pretty, pink-hued one. That's Himalayan. So, which should you choose? Pink salt vs. sea salt...or perhaps just go with the usual table salt?

Let's back up. Though the ability to choose between Himalayan salt vs. sea salt may be more mainstream nowadays, the options long predate us (and Trader Joe's, for that matter).

"Different types of salt have always been around, although most recently, a rise in the market for gourmet salts makes it seem as if these are a new source," explains Courtney Pelitera, MS, RD, CNSC, a registered dietitian specializing in sports and wellness nutrition with Top Nutrition Coaching. "All salts are obtained from evaporation of a brine solution, evaporation of seawater, spring saltwater or salt mining processes."

Still, there are some nuances. "The major difference between different types of salt is where they come from and any additional minerals they may contain," Pelitera says. "Different salt composition can vary depending on where the salt was obtained and different types of processing."

Pelitera and other dietary pros shake out the difference between sea salt and Himalayan salt.

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What Is Sea Salt?

Choosing between sea salt vs. Himalayan salt may feel tricky. However, understanding sea salt is fairly straightforward. "Sea salt is literally salt harvested from the sea," says Melanie Betz, MS, RD, CSR, FNKF, FAND, the founder and CEO of The Kidney Dietitian. "It is harvested by letting ocean water evaporate, and you are left with the salt that is packaged and sold as sea salt."

Sea salt is not only different from Himalayan, but is also different from traditional table salt.

"The normal salt that we think of is table salt, which is made up of majority sodium and chloride," Pelitera says. "It does contain other elements such as calcium, cobalt, iron, potassium, magnesium, selenium, zinc and other minerals in tiny amounts....Table salt is typically mined from underground deposits and processed to remove other minerals and contaminants."

The processing is a key distinction and why sea salt is sometimes billed as "healthier" than table salt. Take those claims with a grain of salt (we went there).

"The term 'natural' isn’t strictly regulated on food labels in most countries and may not mean much in terms of the healthfulness of a product," says Avery Zenker, RD, a registered dietitian. "The term 'natural' is often used for foods that have not been significantly altered by processing and do not contain added vitamins, minerals, artificial flavorings or food additives. When it comes to salt, 'natural' typically means the product has undergone less processing and generally just contains one ingredient: salt."

As we'll see shortly, the type of salt or what it says on its label doesn't indicate which is healthier. As for use, Betz says table salt is most often added as a "finishing salt."

"It tends to be crunchier than table salt and can add a great texture and flavor when added to a dish at the end of cooking," Betz explains.

However, sea salt is versatile. "It can be used within food preparation or simply sprinkled on top of food," Zenker says. "It can also be used for non-food purposes, such as homemade cleaning and personal care products."

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What Is Himalayan Salt?

Himalayan salt is taken from salt mines in Pakistan. "Similar to sea salt, it is typically not processed to remove other minerals," Sarah Wagner, RD, a registered dietitian with Memorial Hermann.

It gets some style points because it's pink. "Himalayan salt is often a pink color from other minerals besides sodium and chloride, like copper, calcium and magnesium," Wagner says. "Iodine is usually not added to Himalayan salt. Also, similar to sea salt, the crystals are typically larger than table salt."

Pelitera explains that Himalayan salt has traditionally been used to preserve fish and other foods. However, Betz says the course, mild, slightly sweet (but still salty) Himalayan salt is now used to flavor foods.

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The Difference Between Himalayan Salt and Sea Salt: Which Is Healthier?

Yes, there are distinctions in nutrition between Himalayan salt vs. sea salt. "The difference between sea salt and Himalayan salt, nutritionally, is that most of the time, depending on the source, Himalayan salt is higher in iron, calcium and magnesium," Pelitera explains. "Sea salt is higher in potassium but also contains higher amounts of calcium and magnesium than table salt."

Does that matter for health? Not really.

"The nutritional content of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium and other minerals is so small compared to recommended daily intake that it is not making any significant difference," Pelitera continues.

Ditto for the idea that traces of "harmful" items like microplastics in sea salt make it inferior to pink salt health-wise.

On that note, Wagner says that dietary guidelines on salt apply regardless of which salt you add to food. Federal recommendations state that people should limit sodium to about one teaspoon daily.

Himalayan Salt vs. Sea Salt: Which Should You Choose?

That's entirely up to you. "Since the sodium content is similar in all salts, I would recommend using whichever one is easily accessible, affordable, and has a taste you prefer," Pelitera says.

She suggests asking yourself:

  • Which flavor do I like better? ("Some people can really tell the difference in flavor," Pelitera says.)

  • Which one is available at your usual grocery store?

  • Which one is the most cost-effective, if that is something you are concerned about?

  • What does your family like? ("I have even worked with families whose kids think that having the pink Himalayan salt is more fun, so that is their product of choice," Pelitera says.)

"The bottom line is that nutritionally, these products offer the same value, so choosing the one that is best for you and your family may be easier than you think," Pelitera explains.

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